By Tim Hunt
District elections will be problematicUploaded: Jun 13, 2019
As the city of San Ramon nears finishing the process of setting up districts for City Council elections, the Dublin school district has demonstrated just how troubling district elections can be in practice.
Boutique law firms have been sending cities letters threatening to sue if they do not set up district elections so minority populations can be represented on governing boards. One Walnut Creek lawyer sent demand letters to four different agencies on the same day last year.
In the case of the Dublin district, it moved to district elections in 2018 after receiving the threat. The track record of agencies successfully fighting to keep at-large elections is dismal so most agency attorneys advise setting up the districts when a threat letter is received.
Dublin did just that. The result: a tiny number of people forced an election. Trustees had appointed Niranjana "Nini" Natarajan to replace trustee Joe Gianni who had resigned last October with two years remaining on his term.
District residents unhappy with the appointment filed a petition with the county office of education to force a special election. They needed only 74 signatures (1.5 percent of the registered voters in the district) and gathered 126 signatures.
That resulted in the special election last week and a decisive win by Gabrielle Blackman who will join the board once the election is certified next month. She received 587 votes (70 percent) compared to 30 percent for Natarajan in the first round of counting. There were still some ballots to be counted. That’s a turnout of less than 16 percent. Blackman will serve until December 2020 and can stand for re-election in November 2020.
That contrasts with the mail-in ballot to extend the district’s $96 parcel tax, which passed with almost 75 percent affirmative votes with about 23 percent voter participation. Neither number is great, but that’s the challenge with special elections that draw little attention.
Along with the city of San Ramon, the Dublin San Ramon Services District, the San Ramon Valley fire district and the town of Danville all received a letter from Scott Rafferty, a lawyer representing the Bay Area Voting Rights Initiative. The city of Livermore also is moving to district elections.
Good call by Supervisor Candace Anderson and Contra Costa County officials to postpone tonight’s Census Solutions Workshop that was scheduled to run right through the Warriors-Raptors Game 6.
She recognized that if she wanted a decent crowd, she wasn’t going to get that during Game 6. Instead, the meeting was moved to Tuesday, June 25 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Oak Hill Park Community Center in Danville.
A county committee is working to raise awareness of the census and encourage residents to fill out their form. The census determines the number of representatives in Congress as well as federal funding for local communities.